Crispy Down-Home Fried Chicken

When Matthew said he wanted to make fried chicken inspired by Winston-Salem restaurant Sweet Potatoes‘ original recipe, my head starting filling with my own visions of what fried chicken means for a southern kitchen. My mom never made fried chicken, at least not the kind that actually comes with a bone inside it. So my frame of reference for fried chicken was limited to fast-food experiences (Bojangles, KFC, Popeye’s) and what I read in books. Yes, books. In my imagination, fried chicken is the kind Minny Jackson teaches Celia Foote how to make in “The Help” – the kind soaked overnight in buttermilk, seasoned with simple ingredients, then fried in a huge vat full of Crisco, which, as Minny points out, is just as vital for a southern cook as our mayonnaise.

Sweet Potatoes’ recipe follows much the same pattern. We used chicken legs and soaked them for at least 6 hours in the buttermilk mixture. Then, we “dredged” the chicken in a flour mixture and popped it in the pan, which was full of hot oil. When our chicken was finally done frying (we used a meat thermometer to be sure), we sure did enjoy it with our homemade biscuits, seasoned green beans, and a sweet potato hash Matthew came up with on the spur of the moment. It was a feast worthy of any southern kitchen, and it certainly lived up to the best of my imagination.

Here’s the recipe we used, which we tweaked for our own tastes. Feel free to change as needed, add your own sides, and enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs. chicken

Oil for frying

(Buttermilk mixture)

1/2 quart buttermilk

1 tbsp. salt

1/2 tsp. garlic salt

1/2 tsp. thyme

1/2 tbsp. pepper

 

(Flour mixture)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch

Directions:

1. Combine buttermilk, salt, garlic, thyme and pepper. Add the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

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2. Heat the oil (about 1 inch deep) on medium-high in a large cast-iron pan.

3. Combine flour and cornstarch in a bowl. (The original recipe called for adding a tablespoon of chicken or seafood seasoning to the flour mixture. We didn’t, so it’s optional.)

4. Dredge the chicken in the flour+cornstarch mixture and coat it thoroughly.

5. Add the chicken to the pan and brown on one side for 10 minutes.

6. Turn the chicken over and keep frying until it is done, turning when necessary. Chicken is done when a thermometer (in the thickest part) reads 165 degrees.

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7. Remove from the pan and place the chicken on a plate covered with paper towels or another material for removing some of the grease. Serve and enjoy!

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Matthew’s take: Just watch chef Stephanie Tyson fry chicken and talk about her method. I believe your mouth will be watering afterward, just like mine was (unless you don’t like chicken altogether). This fried chicken was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside when we enjoyed it fresh from the pan. When I took a couple of pieces to work for lunch a couple of days later, I was amazed that it was even more flavorful and even better. The buttermilk soak makes all the difference in the flavor. The time you fry and the rotation of the chicken as it cooks inside and fries outside is the key to getting a combination of a nice, golden brown colorful appearance and the delicious taste of meaty chicken on the inside. I would recommend this recipe against any fried chicken prescription out there. Knowing the story of the chef who passed down the recipe certainly makes a difference as well. (And so does the memory of eating in her delightfully Southern, North Carolina restaurant.)

Molly’s take: This chicken, as I said, lived up to my expectations. Soaking it in the buttermilk really makes the meat tender and flavorful. It is perfect when prepared and cooked this way. The frying took longer than I imagined, but I didn’t have enough oil in the pan and my burner was on too low. So that’s why I suggest turning it up to medium-high heat and frying in at least an inch of oil. Once it was done, it was delicious! Crispy outer covering with a tender, juicy inside. We can’t wait to try it again!

 

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Cheeseburger with Homemade Cherry Cola BBQ Sauce

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My favorite cheeseburger hands down is a basic burger: maybe something with cheese, lettuce, tomato, a little mayo. That’s usually what I seek out the first time I’m visiting a spot known for its cheeseburgers. Next on the list after the “classic” version is some version of barbecue cheeseburger. I love the combination of meat, bun, cheese and barbecue sauce.

My taste for barbecue sauce on cheeseburgers is why the “Bronco Burger” was an attractive option when we recently planned a cookout at our house.  The Bronco includes, among other delicious features, a homemade cherry cola barbecue sauce that offers a bit of a kick. The accompanying mozzarella cheese provides a cool down effect that pairs nicely with the sauce.

This burger recipe was a fun one to make alongside Molly. As I grilled the burgers in the backyard, she made the barbecue sauce in the kitchen. Let’s dive right into what you’ll need to make your own Bronco Burgers, along with the process for putting the burgers and sauce together.

Burger Ingredients

1.5 pounds ground beef of your choice

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon prepared chili powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sandwich Ingredients

mozzarella cheese of your choice

hamburger buns

sweet onion slices

dill pickle chips

Barbecue Sauce Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1.5 cups ketchup

1.25 cups cherry Coke (or your preferred cola)

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup cherry preserves

1/8 cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

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Sauce Directions

1. Melt butter in pan

2. Add onion and garlic and saute.

3. Whisk in remaining ingredients.

4. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Cook until mixture thickens.

The sauce will take you about 45 minutes. It takes a while to thicken in some cases.

Serve warm.

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Putting your burgers in the fridge or freezer to get them nice and cool before putting them on the grill will help them hold together better as they cook. This is especially important if you’re cooking with fresh ground beef.

Burger Directions

1. Mix your cumin, chili powder, onion powder, salt and pepper into your meat.

2. Patty out into the size of burgers you’d like to eat.

3. Use your fingers to make an indentation in the centers of both sides of the burger patties to prevent them from forming a dome as they cook.

4. Refrigerate your burgers until you’re ready to grill them.

5. Grill until burgers are done as you desire.

6. Arrange burgers with cheese, pickles and onion on your buns and then top with preferred amount of barbecue sauce.

 

Molly’s Take: One step is left out of this phenomenal burger recipe: Enjoy! The sauce is killer and, despite the time it takes to cook, surprisingly easy to make. Drizzled on top of a perfectly-seasoned burger bursting with flavor and combined with the smoky taste and the texture of mozzarella, all sandwiched between a solid, fresh bun — this sauce is the microphone that makes that burger sing. Add in some pickles and onions and you’ve got a flavor explosion the likes of which I’ve never had at home in a homemade burger. In other words, if you’ve got a minute and a hot grill, try this and tell us what you thought.

Matthew’s Take: These Bronco Burgers are as tasty as any barbecue-sauced cheeseburgers I’ve had, and it’s all because of the barbecue sauce. The spice mixture that goes into the patties has its own role in this #FoodieScore experience, and the mozzarella cheese, pickles and onions create a nice mixture of textures and flavors, but it’s the homemade sauce that provides the lasting impression. And the best part? You can refrigerate the sauce and continue to use it on pork, chicken and other foods for a few weeks after making it. This is a winner if you like barbecue cheeseburgers. I give this one an A for taste, an A- for cost (you may have to buy some spices and items you won’t have on hand), and I give it a B for ease. The sauce took Molly some time and attention to cook. But hey, that’s the point. It wouldn’t be the same with a bottled barbecue sauce.

Pasta Mama: Creative, Flavorful, Simple

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If I tell you I’m going to make you pasta and scrambled eggs for dinner, what’s your reaction? Does it sound more appetizing if I tell you I’m going to mix the eggs into the pasta? Maybe it further helps if I tell you several Asian pasta dishes include eggs that are scrambled in somehow?

Yeah, I didn’t think so. When I first heard about Pasta Mama seven or eight years ago on one of my favorite Food Network Shows “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” I turned up my nose, too. It didn’t exactly sound like a delicious meal. But I’ve always enjoyed trying new things that involve ingredients I enjoy, so I gave it a whirl, as Kevin McAllister said of a frozen macaroni and cheese dinner while grocery shopping in the 1990 movie Home Alone. And the Pasta Mama blew me away with its simplicity and flavor.

Some people aren’t big fans of marinara sauce, so they prefer an alfredo or other topping for their pasta. This offers another cheap, flavorful option with the eggs and spices, and if you already have spices and dry pasta in your kitchen or pantry, it won’t cost you much at all to make (also considering eggs are pretty cheap). And if you cook the eggs and pasta just right, it’s not too dry or too wet.

Pasta Mama at its best is a very simple and light dish, so don’t plan on feeling extremely full afterward. In fact, it’s a dish you might have as a small meal as part of a plan to eat more than three meals a day, or you might even try it for a simple and quick breakfast. You can use that leftover cooked, plain pasta to get a head start, but even if you have to cook your pasta first, this dish won’t take you more than a half hour to prepare.

The following recipe is a modified take on a suggestion from Food.com.

Ingredients

10 ounces dry pasta

3 eggs, beaten

2 minced garlic cloves

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon fresh grated parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon seasoning salt

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

 

Directions

1. Cook your pasta in a pot until it has the softness/firmness you prefer. (If you already have leftover cooked pasta, just heat it enough to knock the chill off before you take the next step in the recipe.)

2. In a skillet on medium heat, saute all of your spices with the butter or oil.

3. After your spices have sauteed, add the pasta and water and stir together.

4. Pour in your already-beaten eggs and combine until the eggs fully cook and mix with the pasta.

5. While your dish is still in the skillet, sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top. You can, of course, add as much cheese as you want.

6. Plate and serve. As with anything, your yield depends on how much pasta you actually use, how much each diner eats and the age of your diners. If you feed this to kids, it will probably go farther with each individual eater.

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Molly’s Take: I wasn’t terribly afraid of the egg and pasta combo here, since I love Asian rice and noodles and those often include eggs of some kind. I also am a person who really can’t stand marinara sauce in most settings, so I was excited about the prospect of an alfredo alternative. The Pasta Mama delivered. Its simple flavor, perfectly seasoned with herbs and spices, was light and tasty. As Matthew said, it isn’t incredibly filling or heavy, but I could easily see adding some type of fish like salmon or shrimp to the dish. However, the Pasta Mama stands alone in its simplicity and flavorful taste. Definitely give it a try.

Matthew’s Take: Of course, I really love this dish, or I wouldn’t be sharing it with you. My favorite way to eat pasta has always been with some kind of tomato-based sauce and beef meatballs or a cheese-based sauce with chicken. This is a completely different dish and one I’ve never had in a restaurant. I’ve never seen it on a menu in a restaurant, despite seeing it recommended on a food show by a professional chef who ate it at a restaurant. Maybe it has a low profile because it would take most people by surprise. I know it did me. Other than not being heavy enough to fill me for a long period of time, Pasta Mama is surprisingly satisfying. The garlic butter and cheese help provide their own deal of flavor, but it’s the eggs that offer the most boost to the texture and taste. You may be skeptical, but I encourage you to give it a try. Creative cooking can be exciting because it can break our normal routine in the kitchen and at the table. And this is a way to be creative and make an economical meal in a half hour or less. I give it an A for taste and an A+ for both cost and ease.

Easy Slow Cooker Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches

Philly Cheesesteak

How often do we find ourselves ordering a meal at a restaurant, but we don’t know how it’s made?
For Matthew, that doesn’t happen often, because he loves experimenting in the kitchen, learning how to make favorite dishes and exploring unconventional combinations.
Since we got married in January, we’ve tried a variety of new homemade foods in the kitchen.
Mozzarella cheese sticks was the first venture, and it flopped the first time because the recipe we followed left out a step. We learned just how important an egg mixture can be for holding together a recipe.
More recently, we attempted our first Slow Cooker Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches. Molly’s dad enjoys Philly Cheesesteak (and anything with meat, cheese and bread), and Molly experienced the glorious concoction of an authentic cheesesteak during a visit to Philadelphia several years ago.
Our first conundrum with the cheesesteak: what kind of steak?
Obviously not New York Strip.
Not T-bone either.
Apparently, there are several different options, including ribeye.
But how expensive do you want your sandwich to be? Especially when you’re planning to make dinner for five people?
And how do you slice a steak thin enough to get that authentic Philly style?
Must you visit an old-time meat market for such an ingredient?
With more questions than answers, we visited a place that appears to have all the answers: Walmart.
Matthew’s dad doesn’t like to set foot in the place, but we don’t mind it as a one-stop-shop for most everything you need.
We first needed to decide if we could find the meat needed for the cheesesteak, and we did. From several options, we chose a thin top sirloin. Despite Matthew’s concern of not having enough steak, two pounds made a full seven sandwiches.
With the big-ticket item (in price as well at $13, so don’t expect to make a cheap true Philly cheesesteak) out of the way, we easily progressed through the rest of our shopping list. Check out the ingredients list below for more.
You’ll also find out how we cooked our steak with ease, and we’ll offer a tip for what you might do to make a better Philly than we did.

Ingredients
1 package of meat (for us, 2 pounds of top sirloin yielded seven sandwiches)
Salt, pepper and seasoning to taste
1 package of cheese, our choice was provolone
1 green pepper
1/2 sweet onion
1 package of sandwich buns of your choice, with preference of sub style

Peppers and onions
Steps
1. Slice your steak, peppers and onions into thin strips. You’ll need a fairly sharp knife for the meat.
2. Season the steak with salt and pepper as desired. We included a few bouillon cubes and 2 cups of water in our slow cooker for an extra boost.
3. Our family was coming over for dinner on Friday night, just minutes after we planned to get home from a full day of work. So we wanted to make Philly cheesesteaks without having to do a lot of cooking in a short period of time. Enter the slow cooker. We cooked our meat the night before and all day that Friday in a low heat in the slow cooker. The meat was incredibly tender by the next evening, but it had also fallen apart a bit more than Matthew desired. You might slice your ingredients the night before and put them into storage containers in the fridge, then put them in the slow cooker before you head out to work for the day. You might get a tender-cooked meat without the pieces being so small. The recipe we found on Pinterest suggested cooking your meat six to seven hours.
4. Once your steak has cooked, divide it up evenly (or unevenly depending on appetites and diner preferences) onto your sandwich buns.
5. Cover your steak with the desired amount of cheese.
6. Stick your cheesesteaks on a pan and heat the buns and melt the cheese in the oven. We didn’t use the oven because we’re partial to our toaster oven. If you have a toaster oven, you might want to try the same method.
7. Serve up your cheesesteaks with any side you choose. We went with French fries.

Matthew’s Take: These sandwiches were much better than I expected, and they were honestly much easier than I expected. You won’t get out light on the cost, and you’ll notice that if you’re a cheapo like me. But you won’t have to do much cooking by using the slow-cooker method. After the meat and vegetables are sliced, you’re home free as long as you have the time to cook the meat. My sandwich was as good as any steak sandwich I’ve had at a restaurant. I usually find steak sandwiches to be tough and this was anything but tough, probably because the meat cooked for about nine hours. I give this recipe an A+ for taste, an A+ for ease of preparation and a B for cost. If you’re making it for a group of more than five, you’ll have to pay quite a bit to get enough true steak for a Philly.

Molly’s Take: I really liked these Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches. I think it would be interesting to try another type of steak to see how different it would be. I can say that no Philly Cheesesteak has compared to the one I actually got in Philly. But this one was pretty darn good and super easy. Putting it all in the crockpot and letting it cook and stay warm meant we didn’t have to worry about dinner that night. And my whole family loved them. All in all, it was a great choice. If you try them, let us know what you do differently! And how you like them! We hope you enjoy.

Family-Favorite Roasted Potatoes

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Potatoes are full of possibilities. You can bake them or cut them and make fries, wedges or homemade chips. You can shred them and make hash browns or mash them and make homemade mashed potatoes.

Matthew’s favorite way to prepare potatoes is to roast them in a stovetop pan.

It’s also a favorite of Molly’s mom, who requests the potatoes at nearly every family gathering.

The great thing about this recipe is that you can follow all of the steps until you put the potatoes in the pan and then mash the potatoes, add milk or cream and butter and have delicious homemade mashed potatoes.

This recipe can incorporate your favorite potato, Idaho, red or otherwise, and you can also bake the potatoes in the oven, instead of cooking them in a pan.

Ingredients

3 cups of peeled potatoes

a dash of salt, pepper and/or garlic salt, depending on your taste

a dash of olive oil

Step one:

Cut your potatoes. The smaller the potatoes, the faster they will cook in all stages of this recipe.

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Boil your potatoes in a pot on the stove until the potatoes are fork-tender. You can boil the potatoes in a microwave, but it will take much longer.

Step three:

Drain your potatoes in a colander or around your pot lid over a sink, being careful to keep your potatoes in the pot.

Step four:

Turn your burner to medium-high heat and put your potatoes in the pan on the stovetop. Cover your potatoes with a light coating of olive oil (or vegetable oil if that’s all you have). Top with a sprinkling of salt and pepper to your desired taste. Let your potatoes roast until you start to see sides browning, then take a spatula to mix the potatoes and move them to position them for browning on other sides.

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Reduce your heat to low and cover your pan with a lid to allow your potatoes to steam and thoroughly cook. You will get a slight browning on the potatoes while they are covered, too, but this part of the process is mostly to soften and moisten the potatoes after you’ve just browned them in the pan. The browning process can remove much of the moisture in the potatoes, and the roasting process with the lid on helps replace that moisture.

Step six:

Remove your potatoes from the pan. It’s not likely you’ll have much grease after roasting the potatoes. Enjoy!

Molly’s Take: We love this simple method of making roasted potatoes. They always come out hearty and flavorful and so versatile. One of my favorite things to do is have the potatoes for dinner with salmon or burgers or the like, then the next morning have them wrapped in a tortilla with cheese, your favorite breakfast meat, and maybe even a few onions. they’re delicious, inexpensive and a great addition to any meal. If you ever need a side dish that is filling, not bad for you, and tasty, these potatoes are your MVP. (Most Valuable Potatoes)

Matthew’s Take: Not only is this my favorite method of preparing potatoes, it’s my favorite way to eat potatoes. These go great with burgers, with salmon, with grilled chicken, with fried chicken tenders, with almost anything. If you cut the potatoes into small pieces, they’re a great breakfast potato, and they can even be used as leftovers in breakfast tacos or burritos. They pair great in a tortilla with eggs, bacon or sausage and cheese. These potatoes get an A+ for taste, an A+ for ease, an A for cost as a plain ole bag of potatoes isn’t usually expensive, and they get a B for presentation. You can jazz up the presentation by topping with a little light cheese or carefully ensuring you have the perfect browning on all sides. (You can do that by browning in the pan more than roasting with the lid on, but you may lose some of the moisture.) I hope you enjoy these potatoes as much as we do.

Molly’s Three-Ingredient Homemade Biscuits

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Matthew’s grandma Quinn made delicious homemade biscuits. He can remember her spending long periods of time before meals mixing the ingredients by hand, cutting out the biscuits and baking them in the oven. Her biscuits were small, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Homemade biscuits, like many other treats, do not exist in today’s kitchen.

Many people just aren’t interested in taking the time to make things like biscuits. They’d rather stop at the local fast food chicken joint and grab a box to go with dinner.

Not so at our house. Molly makes delicious biscuits that rival what you’d find at a Cracker Barrel or your favorite country restaurant. And they’re not THAT difficult to make. They don’t take that long to bake either.

Molly’s side of the family and my side of the family both have a history of cooking and baking. If your family does, too, or if you’d like to add a simple homemade touch to breakfast or dinner, try out this recipe.

Ingredients

2 cups self-rising flour

1/2 cup shortening

3/4 cup milk (some people use buttermilk; we prefer regular)

Step one:

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees, and blend your flour and shortening with two forks, with your bare hands or, the easiest route, in an electric stand mixer.

Step two:

Stir/blend in your milk.

Step three:

Form your biscuits and place on an ungreased pan.

Step four:

Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Yield: Makes 9 average-sized biscuits.

Matthew’s Take: I love homemade biscuits, and I can eat them with any meal with many accompaniments. They’re delicious at breakfast with jelly on them. They’re delicious with lunch, or dinner with a meat and veggies meal. They’re delicious for dessert with an apple butter, a jelly, or even with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce on top. Molly’s biscuits are as good as any homemade biscuits I’ve ever eaten. They’re soft throughout, without being doughy inside or out. I look forward to the times when she makes these biscuits because I know they’re not the hardest thing to make and they are so versatile. They get an A+ for taste, an A+ for cost because the ingredients aren’t expensive and last for a while if you don’t make biscuits every day, and they get an A for presentation because what Southerner doesn’t get excited about a homemade biscuit?

Molly’s Take: I made these biscuits for a long time before I realized that the recipe should yield 9 regular-sized biscuits. I used to make six biscuits out of this one recipe! But you can (and should) make 9-10. This is my favorite way to make biscuits, because it’s simple, they cook into a beautiful golden brown color, and they taste like home. There’s just something better about a homemade biscuit. The other great thing about these is that they really are cheap to make. One bag of self-rising flour, a huge can of shortening and a gallon of milk (all purchased at your local Aldi, of course) will last you for a while, through many rounds of biscuit-making, and won’t cost that much. This is my best recipe for biscuits. And I’m sharing it with you!

Italian Savory Monkey Bread (aka Pizza Puffs)

Pizza Puffs

Home economics classes seem like a stereotypical female rite of passage in the 1950s. But in 1998, Matthew’s middle school home economics class was where he learned this recipe for “Pizza Puffs,” which he now affectionately refers to as Italian Savory Monkey Bread. It’s a delicious, incredibly simple and delightfully cheap way to make a homemade pizza of sorts without doing the work to mix even the simplest of crusts. Kudos to Matthew’s home-ec teacher Ginger Patterson for sharing this recipe, which is easy enough for a young teenager to make with minimal adult supervision.

Ingredients

1 can of eight biscuits

your favorite pizza sauce

shredded cheese

desired additional toppings (pepperoni, cooked hamburger meat, vegetables, etc.)

Step one:

Cut the biscuits into 4 pieces each and spread across the bottom of a thin casserole dish.

Step two:

Cover the biscuits with the desired amount of sauce, add additional toppings of your choice and cover generously with cheese.

Step three:

Bake in a 375-degree oven for about 15-20 minutes. (Your cooking time will vary based on your oven, the depth of toppings and how brown you want the biscuits and cheese.)

Step four:

Let cool and break apart pieces to serve. The recipe will serve 2-4 people, depending on how hungry you are.

Matthew’s take: This is one of the first recipes I learned to make on my own (other than stir-fry, which I started making about the same time by experimenting with grilled chicken, cheese and green peppers in a pan on the stovetop). It’s a delicious recipe that is mostly homemade, without any real cooking going into it. That should appeal to people who don’t like spending a lot of time and effort making dinner, while also appealing to people who don’t want to spend a lot of money buying ingredients for a meal. Quite possibly the best part is that, like a full traditional pizza, you can eat the leftovers cold or warm. These get an A+ for ease and cost, an A for taste and a B for presentation. Other than the browned cheese, there’s nothing fancy about how they look, but taste is what matters most of all to me.

Molly’s take: Despite my well-known dislike for pasta/pizza sauce, I’m glad Matthew took a chance on making these for us. They’re very easy to make, inexpensive and quite tasty! I personally loved having sausage and pepperoni on them. The more meats the better! But that’s how I usually feel about pizza anyway. This had a deep-dish pizza taste to me, which I liked, and a good combination of meat, cheese, sauce and bread. Overall, a delicious and easy meal for a family to make, since it can feed up to four people, or a couple like us, who can have it for leftovers on another day. Overall grade: A. 🙂